Roseburg: A gunman went on a shooting rampage at a college in the US state of Oregon, killing 10 people and wounding seven before he died in a shootout with police
A visibly angry President Barack Obama made an impassioned plea for gun control in the wake of the shooting, blasting Congress for its failure to act in the face of “routine” mass killings.
The man — identified by US media as Chris Harper Mercer, 26 — opened fire in a classroom at Umpqua Community College in rural Roseburg, and moved to other rooms methodically gunning down his victims, witnesses said.
Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said 10 people were killed and seven were injured, several critically. He said the victims’ identities would not be released for 24 to 48 hours.
Hanlin confirmed that authorities believed they had identified the shooter, but declined to release his name.
“You will never hear me mention his name,” Hanlin said. “I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and coward live act.”
A candlelit vigil was being held Thursday at 8 pm in Roseburg, a close-knit logging community with many locals among the 3,300 students at the college.
Witnesses quoted in the US media described scenes of terror and panic as the tragedy unfolded.
Student Cassandra Welding was inside the college when she heard 35 to 40 shots coming from an adjacent room.
She saw a fellow student be shot after opening the classroom door to see what was happening.
“Then we locked the doors, turned off the lights and … we were all pretty much in panic mode and called 911 (emergency services) and our parents and (said) ‘I love yous’ because we didn’t know what would happen, if those were our last words.”
Voicing both anger and sadness at the latest mass shooting at a US school, Obama threw down the gauntlet to lawmakers — and the people who vote for them — on the thorny issue of gun control.
“Somehow this has become routine,” said the president. “We become numb to this.”
“We can actually do something about it, but we’re going to have to change our laws,” said a stony-faced Obama. “This is not something I can do myself. I have to have a Congress and state legislatures and governors who are willing to work with me on this.”
“It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun,” Obama said.
Police were alerted to the shooting shortly after 10:30 am and rushed to the site as the tragedy was still unfolding.
Hanlin said police exchanged fire with the gunman who was later confirmed dead.
Authorities said investigators were examining social media postings thought to belong to the shooter. Several reports said he may have shared his intentions online beforehand.
Other reports said police recovered four weapons and a cell phone at the scene that contained messages linked to the massacre.
Brady Winder, another student at Umpqua, said he was in class when suddenly he heard a loud pop coming from an adjoining classroom.
He said his teacher called out through the door to see if everything was OK and then further shots rang out.
“We all kind of froze and bolted out the door,” Winder said. “I didn’t really have any time to think. It was fight or flight.”
Police searched the entire campus after the shooting aided by sniffer dogs and patted down students and staff as they left and boarded buses that transported them to local fairgrounds.
“Most of us have relatives taking classes here,” said Douglas County fire Marshall Ray Shoufler. “Pretty much everybody knows everybody type scenario.
“So something like this affects many, many, many people.”
School shootings are a disturbing reality of American life and many facilities have reinforced security in recent years, especially in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.
Twenty students and six adults were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut by 20-year-old Adam Lanza.
On Wednesday, a student who got into an argument with the principal at a high school in South Dakota pulled a gun and shot the school official in the arm before he was tackled and subdued by staff.
There have been 142 school shootings in the United States since the Sandy Hook massacre, according to data compiled by Mass Shooting Tracker.